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“I Gambled Everything to Come Here”—Tracing Robin Goomes’ Incredible Career Trajectory

In just over a year, Kiwi Robin Goomes went from a full-time career in the Army to one of the top female freeriders in the world


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A year ago, Robin Goomes was at a crossroads. With five years of service in the New Zealand Army as a heavy machinery operator, she needed to decide whether to progress her military career or make a massive bet on herself to break into the global freeride scene. Even though she’d never competed outside of New Zealand, she rolled the dice. 

“I literally gambled everything to come here (Formation 2021). Last year, I put all of my savings into traveling and riding bikes,” Goomes, 25, said on Tuesday morning as the wind whipped atop a ridgeline near Virgin, Utah, where she was packing dirt onto a step-up that would set her up to drop into her full line at Formation, an invite-only, weeklong big-mountain session designed to elevate the top women’s freeride talent in the world. 

In May 2021, Goomes flew to Utah, her first-ever trip to the U.S., to be an alternate and a digger for Vaea Verbeeck at this event. A couple months earlier, she’d drawn attention for throwing a backflip at Future Ground, a similar women’s freeride progression session in New Zealand organized by Mons Royale. With Formation on deck, the Mons Royale folks reached out to Formation founder Katie Holden to make sure Goomes was on her radar. Holden extended a last-minute invitation. 

It’s all smiles around Robin Goomes and her dig crew, including Juju Milay (left) and Kelsey Timpany, as they shape dirt and rocks in the Utah desert on Tuesday.

“They put a bug in my ear,” Holden said. “Not just that she’s so good, also that she really lifts everyone around her, that she’s really collaborative and wants to push [freeride] forward for everyone. 

“She came out, both her and Haz (Harriet Burbidge-Smith). I feel like they both took so much financial risk. They put all their eggs in one basket, and said, ‘This is our opportunity to just commit.’ They were here, then they went to Europe after and were just like, ‘Let’s make it happen.’ They both worked so hard at Formation last year, then their whole summer was just unbelievable. It’s so wild.” 

 

Goomes (left) and Louise Ferguson, another Formation first-time athlete, prepare for a potentially career-changing week.

After Formation, Goomes scored a wild card invitation to Crankworx Speed & Style in Innsbruck, Austria, where she became the first woman to land a backflip in competition, then went on to be part of the first group of women to be invited to Audi Nines, where she won Women’s Ruler of the Week and Best Trick for throwing a backflip-can. Her momentum carried into this year, when she was among the first women invited to Darkfest in South Africa, then made history when she hit the massive 90-footer as she soared through one of the biggest jump lines in the world. Sponsorships followed—and she went from having domestic support through Mons Royale and the distributor Wide Open NZ in 2021 to a full global program, supported by Yeti Cycles, Suntour, Five Ten, Enve, Goodyear and POC.  

It’s all pretty surreal for Goomes, who’s only been riding mountain bikes for five years, and just over a year ago, considered herself a weekend warrior balancing a full-time, high-commitment job with trips to Rotorua to race DH. 

“It feels really fast. Obviously it’s taken a long time to get my riding to here. I didn’t just sit on the couch then ended up here. That part took a long time and that wasn’t hard because that was just me having fun doing what I love. But the last year feels like yesterday, it’s gone so damn quick. It’s unbelievable. I just road-tripped down here with Casey (Brown) and all those girls. I’m sitting in a car with Martha (Gill) and Haz and Casey, I’m like, ‘How did I even get here with these insane chicks?’ It’s still so unbelievable. I trip out on it every day actually, but here we are.”

Not bad for a kid from the Chatham Islands, a tiny archipelago 800 kilometers off the east coast of New Zealand, that just got cell phone reception last year. There, Goomes grew up riding dirt bikes and dabbled in BMX. Even then, she gravitated toward a looser style of riding. 

“I raced BMX but really just enjoyed the jumps. I was at the BMX track trying to do tricks, trying to do a 360 out of a berm instead of trying to go fast. I guess I was just always more interested in the air time than going quick,” she said.

The last year feels like yesterday, it’s gone so damn quick. It’s unbelievable. I just road-tripped down here with Casey (Brown) and all those girls. I’m sitting in a car with Martha (Gill) and Haz and Casey, I’m like, ‘How did I even get here with these insane chicks?’

Goomes moved to the mainland for high school and entered the Army when she graduated. Around that time, she discovered mountain bikes—a mash-up between the dirt bikes she’d loved as a kid and BMX bikes. It didn’t take her long to get hooked. She started entering races and quickly racked up a handful of first places: Crankworx Air DH in 2019 and 2020, Crankworx DH in 2020, Gravity Enduro Series in 2020. But she hadn’t shaken that familiar pull to learn and throw tricks. 

“I thought I had to be a racer if I wanted to ride bikes so I was racing DH and enduro in New Zealand, and that’s what I signed up to do a couple EWS races last year. Future Ground kind of made me go, ‘Oh, freeride’s a thing.’ It was there, but it didn’t seem accessible for women. Future Ground did something cool, then Formation was happening. Even then, while that was happening, I was like, ‘I don’t know how to get to Formation. I’m not good enough. I don’t know what the process is to get from here to there.’ It seemed too far away. I was just going to go race and stuff, hopefully get some recognition from racing to do freeride. 

“It feels like everyone feels the same when they start. I don’t know how you just become a freerider. I was just doing it at home. I was just a bike rider and I enjoyed doing tricks and learning that sort of stuff. I guess I was doing it before I really understood what it was.” 

When Formation rolled around this year, there was no question in Holden’s mind that Goomes understood what it was, and should level up from digger and alternate to one of the 12 headlining athletes. 

“I’m excited to see what she does here,” Holden said, standing below the iconic Utah cliffs, where Goomes and her crew were etching in her line. “With her style, it’s maybe so she can trick stuff in the middle of the run. It feels like it’s playing to her strengths in that way. She’s obviously an insane technical rider too, but I think Robin brings the progressive tricks, so her potential route makes it so she can throw those mid-run.”

There’s of course talk of Goomes backflipping this weekend during final runs swirling around the venue, but on Tuesday, the second of three Formation dig days, she was playing it conservative.  

“I haven’t done much riding in the dez. I didn’t want to overdo it. I wanted to create something that was going to be fun and something that would be scary the first time, but after that, you can get comfy, you can start steezing it. I want it to look fun, be fun, I don’t want to be passengering down this year. I wanted to create something that would be a good time.” 

One thing for certain—she’s thrilled to be back in the place that started it all. 

“It’s cool to [dig] for someone else and be here and get the experience, but then this year it’s like there’s so much more reward in it. You’re creating something that you’ve visualized and it’s what you want to ride, and suits you. You just really enjoy the whole process because you know at the end of the day you’re going to get to rip down this thing.” 

Photography: Katie Lozancich